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Biological Chemistry

Report provides map for assessing threats from synthetic biology

by Britt E. Erickson
August 28, 2017 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 95, ISSUE 34

Most biotechnology applications are being pursued for legitimate purposes that could benefit human health, the environment, or the economy, but various reports have reached different conclusions about the potential for people to use such techniques to intentionally cause harm. To better understand how much of a threat biotechnology, especially synthetic biology, poses to human health, the U.S. Department of Defense commissioned the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine to investigate potential security vulnerabilities related to manipulating biological functions, systems, or microorganisms. In an interim report released on Aug. 21, the committee provides a framework for examining possible security concerns related to synthetic biology in the near, medium, and long terms. The framework also provides options for mitigating such concerns. The committee is accepting input on the framework until Sept. 5. Once it finalizes the framework, the committee plans to use it to assess the security threats posed by synthetic biology. Those threats and options to address them will be the subject of a future report.

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